In a recent article, I presented a historical case positing that there is more religious freedom in the world today than previous generations could have dreamt of. Though I believe this to be true, it is important to remember that although religious liberty is stronger today than it often was in the past, there is still much progress to be made.
Religious Liberty under Fire in America
Over the course of the Supreme Court’s 230-year history, the court has ruled on scores of cases that confronted freedom of religion. However, there has been a dramatic increase in the regularity of these cases at the court. In the first 150 years of the court, only one case regarding religious expression reached the highest court in the land, whereas dozens of such cases have been tried at the Supreme Court over the past 80 years. This substantial uptick in cases reflects a culture that increasingly challenges and is hostile toward religious expression and religious liberty. Notably, the Supreme Court recently issued an emergency injunction overturning restrictions instituted by Governor Gavin Newsom of California that prohibited in-home gatherings of people from more than three dwellings, citing that the restriction conflicts with the First Amendments’ free exercise clause insofar as it hinders in-home Bible studies, house churches, prayer meetings, and the like.
Other recent examples of growing hostilities toward religious liberty in America can be found in Ken Starr’s new book Religious Liberty in Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty. Starr explains that during the 2020 lockdowns in many states (and for many months), Walmart and local liquor stores were deemed “essential business” by state governors and legislators while churches, synagogues, and mosques were forced to shut their doors.
Restrictive Policies on Religion Worldwide
America is not the only place in the world where religious practice has been attacked through policymaking. A report published by Pew Research Center in 2019 shows that both government-instituted restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion have increased around the world. The report tracks levels of religious restriction across five regions, including the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East-North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. According to the report, government restrictions on religion have grown around the world, with more laws and policies impeding religious practice and governments favoring certain religious groups above others. Religious suppression at the hands of governments isn’t the only threat to religious liberty in the world today; rather, other types of religious oppression and persecution are happening around the world as well.
In China, the government has been committing genocide on the Uighur people (an Islamic ethnic group indigenous to the Xinjiang region of China) for years. Uighurs who make it out of China’s “reeducation camps” have given accounts of the torture and brainwashing they experienced while in the camps. States like the US and UK have acknowledged China’s treatment of the Uighurs as a human rights violation and as genocide. However, the UN has yet to do so, and it is not expected that they will—after all, China sits on the Human Rights Council of the UN.
According to a new report by Open Doors (an organization that tracks Christian persecution around the world, raises awareness, and serves these populations), more than 340 million Christians around the world face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith. The report also states there was a 60 percent increase from the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of ten of the 4,761 Christians killed for their faith last year were in Africa, mostly due to Muslim oppression of Christians.
The report also provides examples of Christian persecution occurring in the top 50 worst nations for Christian persecution. In China, the state told Christians to replace Christian images like crosses with pictures of President Xi Jinping. China has also been arresting Christians and holding them in brainwashing camps where they are often beaten in an effort to make them renounce their faith. In Egypt, record numbers of Christian girls and women are being kidnapped and forced into marriages with their Muslim abductors. In India, many Christians were passed over for food rations during the 2020 lockdowns. In Iran, Christians who are jailed for their faith are often sent to Evin Prison, known as the country’s “torture factory.” These are only four examples out of the 50 Open Doors provides.
Though the West enjoys more religious freedom than almost any other people group at any other time in human history, religious freedom is not impervious to attacks or immune to government overreach. A Christian who lives in a country that currently enjoys a bountiful amount of religious freedom should thank God for it and pray for those who do not have that privilege so that they might not lose hope. A Christian in a country that is experiencing religious persecution should pray for deliverance, pray with joy and thankfulness (1Thess 5:16-18), and pray for those who live in a state of religious freedom so that they might not become complacent or squander their liberty.